Being Responsible in the Age of Fake News

Catalina Barja, Elizabeth Castillo, Darya Chernokova, Alfonso Alonso Herrera, Hande Karasu and Sangam Silpakar

The internet revolution and the rise of Web 2.0 have not only disrupted society with abundance of information but also have empowered citizens by allowing them to participate in content generation process. Users are no longer passive participants of media. They not only create contents but reach millions of other people by self-mass communication through social networking sites. Unfortunately, such freedom has caused interference in the flow of information through the distribution of fake news.

Although the existence of fake news can be traced back to 1439 in the name of yellow journalism and propaganda, the term gained its popularity due to the US Presidential election in 2016. During this period, false news across the political spectrum gained more visibility in social media. A survey conducted by Eurobarometer in all the European Union member states in 2018 shows that online media users encounter more fake news than traditional media users. While the term ‘Fake News’ is believed to be a populist term, the High-Level Expert Group (HLEG) formed by the European Commission to tackle fake news has instead termed it ‘online disinformation’. Nevertheless, in a democratic era where everyone’s opinion is valued, who is to define what is true and false, as “one man’s fake news is another’s truth-telling”.

Online platforms and social media are highly criticised for intensifying online disinformation as they mostly focus on increasing engagement metrics than on the authenticity of information. Hence, the HLEG believes online platforms should self-regulate and control the content of their platforms for their ability to impact activities and form public opinion through algorithmic selections. Due to public pressure and threats from the government, these platforms have taken several initiatives to tackle the problem.

Group 19

During the French Presidential election, Facebook suspended 30,000 automated accounts and it currently has doubled its safety experts. Similarly, Google collaborated with publishers and editors to delete fake stories. Unfortunately, the business model of platforms now-a-days heavily rely on user’s clicks, shares and views rather than authenticity of news; which is why these platforms have no incentive to shut down stories that are “trending,” even if they may be spreading disinformation. If platforms were to become responsible for the content posted, we would probably find a lot more advertising and a lot less freedom of expression.

“Fake news is the deliberate fabrication of information with the intention to deceive and mislead others into believing falsehoods or to doubt verifiable facts.” —  Aidan White, President, Ethical Journalism Network

Media professionals and journalists are pressured to focus on producing breaking news over reliable news, which at times can create false premises on incidents. Nevertheless, the problem of fake news has reached to such peak that member states like Germany, France and Italy have taken legal initiatives by introducing regulations on fake news. Such legal mechanisms have rather brought up a wave of debate and criticisms by civil society and media professionals instead of solving the problem. The question remains unsolved: who should be responsible for controlling the “upload and removal” of fake news? Online platforms? News agencies? Fact Checkers? State? Artificial Intelligence? Or Users?

While the problem remains unsolved and no entity is to take the blame, we, as users, have to contribute to the solution by being aware and critical about the information we consume and spread by taking the following measures:

  • Before sharing any content, make sure to read the content. Clickbait is very common to attract readers, and in the end, the content has nothing to do with the headlines.
  • Make sure the source is reliable. Who is the author of the article: are they trusted journalists, media or are they civilians stating their opinion on a matter?
  • Read several articles on the matter to have a well-rounded opinion.
  • Make sure the content is not satire or parody to avoid misunderstanding humour.

Reference

Lancester, J. (2017). You are the product. Vol 39. (3-10). London Review of Books.

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